Most of us must face the disappointment of not having all of our dreams come true. The fact that we experience failure does not make us failures -- although the way in which we respond to our failures could do exactly that. Here’s what to do when you have trouble getting past life’s disappointments.
Remember for whom you are working -- you. The promotion you had hoped for went to someone else... our family doesn’t appreciate the many things you do for them. It is natural to feel disappointment when things like this occur, but our mistake is to rely on others for validation. We should work hard because to do any less would be letting ourselves down. We should work hard for the sake of our own sense of integrity and knowing we have done our best.
Understand that those who have never been disappointed are the real failures. People who achieve everything they set out to achieve in life obviously have set their bars too low. We achieve more if we aim high -- though this also means that we will be disappointed more often, because lofty goals are difficult to reach. Understand that disappointments are inevitable when we strive for greatness, and consider your life successful if you accomplish just a fraction of your goals.
Escape the isolation of disappointment. We feel alone when we lose a loved one...suffer a life-threatening illness...or experience a major financial setback. Our loneliness then drives us further into despair. Example: My wife and I saw only happy families around us when one of our children was seriously ill. Not until after our child had died did we discover that other families we knew had gone through similar ordeals.
A tragedy does not separate us from everyone else. Sharing our grief brings us closer to the brotherhood of the afflicted, a huge club consisting of everyone who has ever endured pain or inequity. Our misfortune even makes us qualified to help other grieving people. Assisting others can get us past the sense of helplessness that often comes with major disappointments.
Keep disappointments in perspective. Try to remember what was worrying you two weeks ago. Many people cannot. Most disappointments are less consequential than we feel they are at the time. Psychiatrist George Vaillant, MD, director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, which followed 800 men for five decades, found that it is not the bad things that happen to us that stay with us in life -- it is the good people we meet along the way. People who handle misfortune best are the ones who focus not on what happened to them but on all the people who rallied around them when it happened.
Fashion a new dream. There’s no reason that you have to let the failure of one dream stop you from dreaming -- and trying. The experience you have gained can help you create a new, more realistic and achievable dream. Example: When Al Gore lost the presidential election, he recast his dream. He moved from politics to environmentalism, producing a highly acclaimed documentary on global warming called An Inconvenient Truth. His success and impact have been tremendous since his “failure.”
Get angry with God. Some people consider it wrong to get angry with God. I believe that if we cannot get angry with God, then we have a constrained, artificial relationship with God.
When the world disappoints you, go ahead and blame God. Vent your anger, and bemoan the inequity. Voicing unhappiness with life’s disappointments brings you closer to moving beyond them. God does not mind. He will continue to stand by you no matter how angry you become. God understands that you really are getting mad at your misfortune, not at Him.
WHEN OTHER PEOPLE DISAPPOINT US
The friends, coworkers and loved ones on whom we rely sometimes will disappoint us. Two ways to forgive them:
Don’t focus on the mistake. Before ending a relationship based on a single failure -- however great -- consider this person in full. Think about who he/she has been in the past and who he can become in the future. Example: A husband cheats on his wife. The wife might choose to end the relationship, but she also might choose to view this as a single error from a loving but flawed partner.
Consider forgiveness a favor that you do for yourself. People often believe that if they forgive those who have wronged them, the transgressors “get away with” the misdeeds. But forgiveness benefits you more than the transgressor. Offering forgiveness removes a heavy burden that you have been carrying around. It cleanses your soul and eases your pain. The sooner you forgive, the sooner you can move on from your disappointment.
Bottom Line/Personal interviewed Harold S. Kushner, Rabbi Laureate of Temple Israel in Natick, Massachusetts. He is author of numerous best-selling books, including When Bad Things Happen to Good People and, most recently, Overcoming Life’s Disappointments (both from Anchor).